Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby December » Thu Oct 16, 2008 2:34 pm

Gosh, lots to think about here.

Shakespeare wrote:I think that, if Carlisle could really control them, he would have stopped them before they killed people. In fact, I think that it is extremely out of character that he does let them commit murders....I found it unnerving that he would just let the other Cullens kill people. After all, as the creator, wouldn't he feel some amount of guilt for the deaths he has indirectly caused? He acts noble since talks about how he only turns people who are almost dead, but then he doesn't seem to think about the people who are killed as a result of his new creation. It goes against his kind, caring nature. So no, I don’t think it is any kind of recompense. Why should he act like Edward, Esme, Rosalie, and Emmet are more important than they many people they killed? I can only imagine that he did his best to stop the murders but ultimately failed. It isn't his position to deal out forgiveness and Carlisle doesn't seem like someone who would justify his own actions by allowing others to be murdered. It goes against everything that he is.

It’s a really good question: if creating a vampire means bringing a murderer into the world, how could someone as moral as Carlisle do it? From a strictly rational viewpoint, it’s hard to condone saving Edward’s life (for example) knowing that he will go on to take other innocent lives. That’s one life now for several lives later. Of course, in Edward’s case, the calculus turns out to be more equivocal than in, say, Emmett’s, because the lives he takes are not innocent: someone who believes in capital punishment could conceivably excuse him* -- but I doubt Carlisle does!

Two possible answers: first, as Li’lbit observes maybe Carlisle underrated his own unusual moral strength and firmly believed that any vampire he “brought up” would live as blameless a life as he does. Of course, after Edward’s rebellious phase he ought to know better -- but by then (I think) he’d already changed Esme as well. And of course, Rosalie does turn out to be a success from this perspective. (But then again, Emmett doesn’t). You’re right, Li’lbit that broadly speaking, Carlisle’s optimism is well-founded: not one of his family becomes the kind of voracious killer it would be unpardonable to let loose on the world. But they do slip up. They’ve all killed -- many many times. If we’re going to be tough-minded about this, that’s a lot of innocent blood on Carlisle’s conscience. It certainly seems likely that wishful thinking (and modesty) fed into his original decision to change Edward.

But more important, I suspect, is simply the particularity of human affections -- something we know from the Host that Stephenie takes very seriously. If you cold-bloodedly do the maths, there’s no excuse for trading Edward’s life for the lives he will take -- but Edward is there, dying before Carlisle’s eyes, and he is moved to save him. Something about this innocent, virtuous boy catches his heart (and of course in the long run his faith in Edward’s moral goodness is repaid tenfold) -- and he acts on it. And lets the chips fall where they may. This to me is the best answer to the charge often leveled at Carlisle of having a God Complex: in the event, he has never once sat down to make that arrogant calculation “does this one deserve life and that one death?”; he has simply followed the impulse of his heart, for better or for worse. His impulsiveness may have led him to make terrible mistakes, but that’s much more morally attractive (at least to me) than someone coldly dispensing a more perfect justice: it’s hard to condemn someone for errors committed out of love and compassion. Was it in fact an error? Is it wrong to let your feelings for a particular individual to overwhelm the rational calculation of lives lost and saved? To willingly exchange their life for that of several strangers? This takes us into deep philosophical waters, and I think I’d rather stick with Carlisle for now!

As for the question of how he can forgive his “offspring” the murders they commit, I think Cullengirl and Ouisa are right that it would be extremely unreasonable not to, when he’s the one who placed them in the path of such extravagant temptation. I don’t know if I’d go so far as seeing this as an gift offered as compensation for meddling in their lives, as you’ve suggested, Cullengirl. Absolution isn’t really a gift for him to give. But I’m sure he sees how unfair it would be of him to condemn them for stumbling under the crushing burden he himself laid on them.

Does he nonetheless owe his family something for taking the gift of mortality from them (as Tolkien’s elves would put it) without their consent? I think I’m partly with Li’lbit here: in life-threatening emergencies there’s no time to get permission first. But I think Carlisle's dilemma is a little more complicated than that of the doctor in the ER -- because he's not simply restoring their life: he's consigning them to an eternity of fierce moral and physical temptation -- and pain -- from which there's no easy release. And it matters whether you believe that changing someone robs them of their chances of heaven. If vampires are inevitably damned -- or have no afterlife -- it's making a Faustian bargain on their behalf you have no right to be making. (Which makes me curious, Cullengirl, whether you're worried that Edward might be right about vampires’ souls after all). This is why it's essential that Carlisle (of all the Cullens) believes that vampires are not damned per se. But it still leaves him on dodgy moral ground, given what a struggle it is for vampires to abstain from murder, and how greatly he's magnified his family's chances of damnation by changing them. Once you factor heaven and hell into the equation, diverting someone's natural progress through life and death looks less like an innocuous gift after all....

I wanted to reply to Ouisa’s fascinating observations as well, but I think that’s enough from me for the time being! More later.

__________________________________
*I'm setting to one side the question of whether it was ok for Edward to have appointed himself judge and jury and simply considering the innocence or guilt of the lives exchanged for Edward's
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby Li'lBit » Thu Oct 16, 2008 3:11 pm

Oooh, I need to check the timeline because I was imagining that Edward's dark years were after all of the others had been changed. I attributed Carlisle's decision not to change any more vampires to both Rosalie's unhappiness and Edward's decision to stray. If Edward strayed before Rosalie and Emmett that makes things a bit different in my head.

I absolutely agree with you about the question of Carlisle's "right" to "save" someone if it means actually condemning them to Hell. I don't think Carlisle does believe that - though he has his doubts. I just feel like the fact that they had chosen death for themselves doesn't make him evil for not honoring their death wishes. I feel like the question of whether he should have saved (or condemned) them is separate from the issue of their wish to die.
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby SparklingDiamond » Thu Oct 16, 2008 9:22 pm

It's an interesting question though - and makes me wonder if he does feel a twinge of guilt when a life is lost to these slips, knowing that he was in some ways the one who created the situation.


I would definitely agree with this, LilBit. I believe that is one of the reasons why Carlisle is in the profession he is in. He knows how many of his kind kill for sport. His profession is, in a way, his way of making amends for his true nature, in addition to his lifestyle choice.

After reading everyone's comments about the vampires that Carlisle created. I thought of something that struck me as interesting. The one's with the easiest time with the veggie lifestyle are the family members that he, himself, chose to turn. Yes, he turned Emmett, but only because Rosalie begged. Carlisle had found the others and, on his own, decided to turn them. I don't know if this tidbit plays a role in the story or our conversation for that matter :); but, at the moment, it interested me.
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby Destani » Thu Oct 16, 2008 10:18 pm

The way I look at it is that killing humans is the natural lifestyle for a vampire so Carlisle isn't giving them the choice to kill people (that's just nature); instead he's giving them the option to feed from animals and have a family and stay in touch with their humanity. When he says they can go their own way, it's because he doesn't want to restrict them against their will. He doesn't want to force them into a lifestyle that is against their nature and that can be quite painful. He would simply prefer for them to see the benefits of his own lifestyle and willingly choose it.

Regarding Carlisle's right to change people into vampires without their consent, I do believe he was overstepping his bounds in making that decision for others. However, I also know that he had only the best intentions and that he truly believed he was not taking away their soul or their chance at an afterlife so it's forgivable in my eyes. It was, perhaps, the only selfish thing he's ever done to change Edward and Esme because he wanted companions. Luckily, things turned out pretty well with them. With Rosalie, it was a spur of the moment decision because he was moved by this beautiful girl who had been treated so horrendously and wanted to give her another chance at life. He also wanted Edward to find the same joy he had found with Esme, so there was a dual purpose in changing Rosalie. Unfortunately, he did not accurately predict her reaction. But once she was changed, the damage was done. Carlisle certainly wasn't capable of killing her even if that was her wish. His love of life wouldn't allow that. So all he could do was wait and hope that she would settle into her new life eventually.

With Rosalie's change, I think he finally saw that turning people into vampires wasn't always "saving" them. Thus he refused to change anyone else. Emmett was the only exception to that rule because how could he deny Rosalie something that could make her happy after what he had put her through?

As far as trading the lives of the people he changed for the lives of those that they killed, I don't think Carlisle was thinking along those lines. He saw potential in Edward, Esme and Rosalie. He didn't know them well but he saw something in them that drew him to them. He was picturing them living together as a family, not killing humans. So at the time that he changed each of them, I don't believe he thought of it as a trade.
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby Spartan » Fri Oct 17, 2008 8:10 am

a) Is preying on humans a choice that Carlisle gave to his coven as a kind of recompense for changing them (Esme, Edward, Rosalie, and Emmett) on their deathbeds?
I don't think so - He just taught them his beliefs and hoped that they would make the right descision regarding feeding.

b) Is this why Carlisle is so lenient and understanding when one of them slips?
He just knows how hard it is to resist and that they really do feel bad about it and that chastising them wont help.

c) Carlisle the creator is the only one (apart from Rosalie) who has not fed on human blood - is this less a lifestyle than a way of atoning for his sins in changing his family members?
Again I would disagree about that ; he didn't feed on blood before he changed them and his whole world is about helping people - if it was just a way of atoning then he probobly wouldn't be as into his medicine, which he had been into before changing any of them.
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby Shakespeare » Mon Oct 20, 2008 1:47 am

I don't think that Carlisle's creations can easily be excused. He is a rational being who has lived for centuries both among vampires and humans. He understood the consequences of his actions before he transformed Edward. He knew that his ability to effortlessly abstain from human blood was unique. Sure, it is possible that he was simply overly confident about a newborn's ability to refrain, but the Carlisle that we know wouldn't have taken that chance. He had seen and felt the bloodlust of newborns. Although he no longer was tempted, he had a complete knowledge about the temptation.

As for human affections, he had been a doctor for a while before he transformed Edward. He had seen people die. As a compassionate person, it would definitely upset him to see Edward die. However, it should not have interfered with his ability to think rationally. He cared for people during the Spanish influenza. He must have seen innocent boys die before and he was able to resist changing them then. Besides (and correct me if I'm wrong), Carlisle chose Edward because it was easy to pretend that he had died. Carlisle had already been planning to change someone--it was something he did simply out of compassion. It all came down to the fact that he was lonely and wanted a companion. Sure, it is understandable, but it doesn't fit the caring, thoughtful nature of Carlisle.
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby pubesy » Mon Oct 20, 2008 4:54 am

WOW....this thread is fantastic!
Shakespeare....after reading your sig, I have to say, I have quite a bit of respect for you ability to stay open minded!

Now back on topic.

a) Is preying on humans a choice that Carlisle gave to his coven as a kind of recompense for changing them (Esme, Edward, Rosalie, and Emmett) on their deathbeds?
b) Is this why Carlisle is so lenient and understanding when one of them slips?
c) Carlisle the creator is the only one (apart from Rosalie) who has not fed on human blood - is this less a lifestyle than a way of atoning for his sins in changing his family members

When discussing these questions, I think it important to recognise, that while killing is abnormal by the human standard, for vampires, killing humans is natural, normal and accepted. What the Cullen’s do by abstaining from human blood is considered Abnormal, unnatural and strange.

While Carlisle may have "created" the coven of vampires, it is the desire of ALL the family to stay together that truly makes them a family.
Maybe Carlisle believed that because he made THE most important choice FOR his newborn (vampire or mortal death) he should never again make another decision for his children, and let them make their own choices, whether he agreed with them or not. So if a member of his family DID chose to feed off humans, while he may disapprove, he would not stand in their way and make the choice for them.

Being a vegetarian vampire would have been an enormous struggle (well, except for Bella) especially initially, especially with the constant burning desire for blood. I think Carlisle knew that the only way to successfully abstain from blood in the long term was for his family members to CHOSE this lifestyle- not to have it forced upon them. I guess you can almost compare it to drug withdrawal in a way. While you can force an addict into rehab and take away their drugs for a period of time, it is almost guaranteed the person will begin using again soon after leaving rehab. It is only when the addict truly desires to be clean, and checks themselves into rehab, that the addict had any chance of staying clean over the long term. The only way for a vampire to successfully abstain from blood is to WANT to abstain – it has to be their own choice.

Also, why should it be Carlisle’s responsibility to prevent the actions of his fledglings? He may have created them, but that does not make it his responsibility to control them; to prevent them from living the normal vampire lifestyle. I am sure it was stated that Edward “left the family” when he followed the desire for blood. Maybe there ARE boundaries in place for belonging to the Cullen family: the desire to abstain from human blood. It was only when Edward CHOSE to abstain again did he return to Carlisle and Esme. Sure, there have been numerous “slip ups” but they were mistakes or moments of weakness regretted later. We all make mistakes. And in these situations, support and unconditional positive regard may have been more helpful in the road to continue abstaining than punishment and condoning.

We as humans kill our own anyway. I don’t think WE as a species should shun the vampires for their own animal instincts, when we do the same to other species.

if creating a vampire means bringing a murderer into the world, how could someone as moral as Carlisle do it?

I don’t see this action as selfish or uncompassionate. Carlisle was lonely and like all humans (since Carlisle was repressing his vampirism his humanity returned) he wanted and needed companionship. And sure, Edward would be another killer brought into the world, but think of all the lives Carlisle was saving. Maybe he hoped one day Edward could do the same?

I guess it is kind of hard for us to imagine. As we, as humans are the only forms of intelligent life in the universe that we can communicate with and have ethical and moral conversations with. We cannot communicate with the animals we kill to survive – half the time the food is so processed or commercialised, that it does not even register that an animal had to die to provide the meal on your plate.
Vampires are placed in a unique position. They CAN communicate with their “food.”
But why does that make them less moral than us? Life is still life is it not? And we both have to kill to survive.
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby December » Mon Oct 20, 2008 11:39 pm

So many interesting thoughts and so little time!

Pubesy wrote:I guess it is kind of hard for us to imagine. As we, as humans are the only forms of intelligent life in the universe that we can communicate with and have ethical and moral conversations with. We cannot communicate with the animals we kill to survive – half the time the food is so processed or commercialised, that it does not even register that an animal had to die to provide the meal on your plate.

Vampires are placed in a unique position. They CAN communicate with their “food.” But why does that make them less moral than us? Life is still life is it not? And we both have to kill to survive.

It's very difficult to imagine what it would be like to look at a being who was morally, spiritually and intellectually your equal and see...food. (Sure, vampires think faster, have perfect recall etc., but compared to the gulf separating us from livestock, it's a trivial difference). The moral and psychological issues are fascinating (doesn't it totally figure that cannibalistic mermaids are next on Stephenie's agenda!). One thought though: vampires don't have to kill people to survive (just as we don't have to kill animals). It's just very very painful for them not to.

It's interesting to ask ourselves whether the fact that drinking human blood isn't a survival imperative for Stephenie's vampires makes them more evil than traditional vampires or less so. Traditional vampires steal life from other humans to unnaturally prolong their own: hoarding up other people's lives to give themselves immortality. We look at the fact that they are trying to outlast their natural lifespan -- and murdering their fellow men to do it -- and see the darkest sort of wickedness. But in some sense, they are like any predator who needs food to survive. We die; they live -- it's the simplest sort of moral calculus, and there are very few moral systems which don't recognize an absolute right to self-preservation. Ok, giving up your life for someone else is the highest kind of nobility -- but it's not a moral duty.

Stephenie's vampires don't have this ongoing moral choice: either kill to preserve their immortal existence, or abandon their evil way of life and die. They are doomed to live forever (barring death by Volturi): giving up their homicidal diet doesn't bring them release, just suffering. They can be absolved of avariciously grasping after life by choosing to prey on others; not one of the vampire we meet (except I suppose prospectively Gianna) has deliberately made that Faustian bargain to live at the expense of other people's lives (and of their own soul). Nor can they unmake it by choosing to return to the path of innocence, renounce their bloody diet and die. They are what they are, for keeps.

On the other hand, as CatsonMars pointed out ages ago on the Choices thread (see, in particular, the passage about halfway down her post), it's not even as though they have the excuse of needing to feed on blood to survive. Abstaining from human blood IS a choice for Stephenie's vampires. A terrible choice, but a real one all the same. (Yes, we can trot out the argument that human beings are a lesser life form to vampires, the way cows are to us -- but in all the respects that really matter (art, thought, love, compassion, sacrifice, the capacity for good and evil) we're really all the same. The moral dilemmas in the Twilight universe don't quite amount to cannibalism, but they certainly come close). Isn't there something more morally repugnant about killing out of desire (however overwhelming the desire) rather than for survival? How can vampires not be held accountable for the lives they could have survived without taking?
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby December » Mon Oct 20, 2008 11:55 pm

I was going to put this at the end of my last post, but on reflection I think double-posting is -- for once -- a better idea!

Shakespeare wrote:I don't think that Carlisle's creations can easily be excused. He is a rational being who has lived for centuries both among vampires and humans. He understood the consequences of his actions before he transformed Edward. He knew that his ability to effortlessly abstain from human blood was unique. Sure, it is possible that he was simply overly confident about a newborn's ability to refrain, but the Carlisle that we know wouldn't have taken that chance. He had seen and felt the bloodlust of newborns. Although he no longer was tempted, he had a complete knowledge about the temptation.

I'm afraid I have to agree that Carlisle had no excuse for not foreseeing the string of deaths his creations would leave in their wake. Sure, he had reason to hope that it would be easier for someone to embrace his way of life if they'd never tried the life of a red-eyed vampire.* But the odds they would slip up were astronomical. Does this mean the Carlisle we know would never have taken the chance?

Not to me, though it's hard to defend his choice rationally. In a way, the only sense I can make of his decision takes us into the territory that Ouisa was beginning to map our for us. I don't myself think that Carlisle has a God-complex in the simple sense he's often been accused of: deciding who shall live and who shall die. (And I agree again that as a doctor, and an immortal who's spent centuries watching people's lives end, Carlisle didn't just lose his head and save Edward because he couldn't bear to watch this particular mortal die). But Ouisa's right: there is something reminiscent of the Deity in the freedom that Carlisle gives his "children" to find their own way in the difficult existence he has thrust upon them -- and perhaps even more so in his willingness to contemplate the evil his creations may do (why does God permit evil?...).

Now I'm not suggesting that Carlisle actually has the Godlike right to take that responsibility on himself: to create these beings, knowing that they will do evil. I'm not suggesting either that he thinks he has that right -- I don't see him as having those kinds of delusions of moral grandeur. What I suppose I'm getting at here is that Stephenie has vaguely conceived him in this light (though I don't think she's done it consciously, or stopped to work out the moral implications): she's made Carlisle, if you like, the instrument through which the God of her imagined universe has created these beings that they might face, and overcome, extraordinary trials -- but at great cost both to themselves and others. And she has imagined Carlisle as good -- virtuous, self-denying, compassionate and forgiving -- because in her mind the existence of vampires is part of the pattern of goodness. In some sense, he is standing in for the forgiving Deity who made vampires along with killer whales, and gave them the moral faculties to rise above their base natures -- like the rest of us, only on a monumentally grander scale of evil, temptation and goodness.

So maybe it's no wonder if as a character, Carlisle doesn't actually quite add up. Because here (as in some other places in Stephenie's story), her character's function is partly emblematic. In real life, a good (and sane) person probably couldn't take on Carlisle's role: if he were as scrupulous (and modest) as Carlisle seems to be, he would soldier on with his lonely existence rather than bring a succession of murderers into the world. Or if he succumbed to temptation, would feel much more remorse for the aftermath. But Carlisle has another job to do in Stephenie's story: to evoke the loving, demanding, forgiving Creator who loves and understands her tortured hero as much as she does. Trying to make sense of him by the canons of realist character-portrayal is probably a mistake.


_______________________________________
*Is this one "purpose" -- or at any rate effect -- of the newborn's voracious thirst: to speedily distance the new vampire from his former humanity by rapidly accustoming him to treat people as dinner?
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby pubesy » Tue Oct 21, 2008 12:17 am

Hmmm, dome thoughts to ponder.

i never thought of SM's vampires as even MORE evil than the traditional vampire counterparts. Even Louis (Anne Rice) feeds off the lives of rats and livestock, in his early nights as he cannot bear to end the life of a human. while the blood of animals is able to sustain his own life, louis slips into depression and helplessness, and feels a strong desire that Lestat tells him only ending human life can cure. Eventually he gives into his desire for blood. I am sure another of Rice's vampires even try only draining a human to the point at which the human would still live, but even this does not satisfy thirst. it is only with the taking of a human life is a vampire's thirst ever cured.

however, with SM's vampires, the abstaining from human blood, actually brings the return positive, humanistic qualities, such as family, love and kinsman ship. however, we don't really know what it is like at the initial stages of abstaining. Having Bella so flawlessly complete her transition from human to vampire, without the newborn cravings or desires even minutely mimicked, cheated the reader out of the experience of how strong the desire for blood truly is. And is it the more human blood you drink, the more dependent on human blood you become, making the transition from human to animal blood even more impossible? Is this why Jasper has such a hard time, even after decades of being with the family, while Alice finds the lifestyle easy?

I guess the same logic you impose on SM's vampires can be imposed upon us as humans. while there is no need to kill animals for food, we still do, purely because it tastes good. We dont feel any strong burning desire to eat meat (like vampires do), and we could cope quite well on a vegetarian diet, however we chose not to. We have billion dollar industries devoted purely to killing animals for food. (not to mention that so many of these animals die for no reason - the number of whole chickens that are thrown in the trash at our butcher alone is disgusting- at least with vampires, what they kill is eaten). Does that not make us more of a monster than vampires?
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